Blended Learning – The Online Classroom

The introduction of the Internet has led to huge changes across all areas of society from communication, shopping, entertainment, and now education. Computers have long been essential tools in the classroom, but the internet is altering the very way in which students are now taught. The goal of blended learning is to find a balance between traditional learning methods and technological ones.

The continued impact of the digital environment is inevitable, and educational experts have had to re-evaluate the role of digital technology in school, not only in preparing the student for life in the internet age, but also in keeping young people engaged. A 2013 report by Kineo and The Oxford group found that respondents they surveyed expected face-to-face training and teaching to reduce in the future and that ‘there will be a significant increase in the use of mobile leaning, virtual classrooms and webinars, access to on-demand learning resources and social learning (2013, p.4).

In light of this, there is growing enthusiasm for a combined approach to teaching that incorporates online technology to not only supplement, but also advance the learning process through the student’s ability to customise their lesson based on their preferred learning style, be it online videos, graphics, searching online libraries, or downloading eBook versions of reading material for their mobile phone. Another recent investigation evaluated the usefulness and effect of a blended pedagogical approach to teaching and learning by recording the academic achievement, motivation and attitudes of 128 students at the Kuwait University. It was found that students in the blended learning group were ‘significantly outscoring their counterparts in the control group, the intervention blended learning group submitted projects of better quality; earned higher final grades; attended more online training courses; and the majority attended all classes’(Safar & Alkhezzi, 2013, p.1). The results highlight the enormous potential that a blended approach has in a modern academic world.

However, the Kineo and Oxford Group report noted several difficulties in employing blended learning in practice. Some organisations found that it was challenging to design and develop blended learning resources, especially faced with a lack of appropriately dual-skilled and experienced employees. For blended learning methods to be successful, the survey argued that those developing academic programs will need to have ‘a structured process for design which produces a cohesive whole, being rigorous in needs analysis, involving stakeholders, involving people with appropriate skills, and bearing in mind the organisation’s constraints’(Kineo & The Oxford Group, 2013, p.4). The report suggested that as those surveyed were learning which blended solutions worked best through trial and error, it was important that the most effective methods were recorded and shared in order to hasten the understanding and development of blended learning practice.

So how can you employ blended learning in your organisation? Applications such as Scriblink, Moodle and Blackboard offer teachers and trainers a method of engaging with students through an online classroom. There are additional organisations that host entire online courses on behalf of educators, such as CourseSites or Eliademy, which allow students to track class assignments or scores, watch videos of lectures, view linked PowerPoint presentations or academic articles, and communicate with other students or teachers to ask questions or share ideas. One of the more popular versions of blended learning is the ‘flipped classroom’method, whereby a teacher or professor may give out subject notes or link to lecture materials online along with any other supporting material. The students then review this content in their own time and at their own pace. Class time is then devoted to hands-on work during which the teacher can hold class debates or answer questions about the subject. This method allows learners to take an individual approach to learning the subject content.

Blended education methods offer the best of both worlds when implemented successfully, and it is likely that the future will see more organisations realising the benefits of this approach for their own students.

References
Kineo, The Oxford Group (n.d.) Blended Learning – Current Use, Challenges and Best Practices [Online]. Available at http://www.kineo.com/resources/papers-and-guides/learning-strategy-and-design/blended-learning-report (Accessed 02 September 2014).

Safar, A., Alkhezzi, F., Beyond Computer Literacy: Technology Integration and Curriculum Transformation. College Student Journal [serial online]. Winter 2013 2013;47(4):614-626. Available from: SPORTDiscus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 2, 2014.

Photo: Edward N Johnson

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